Staff Login
Print    Email
Decrease (-) Restore Default Increase (+)
Patients & Visitors Services Find a Doctor Quality & Safety Community Health Careers
Request an Appointment

Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand  (SHS) smoke causes other kinds of diseases and deaths.

Secondhand smoke can cause harm in many ways. Each year in the United States alone, it is responsible for:

  • An estimated 46,000 deaths from heart disease in people who are current non-smokers
  • About 3,400 lung cancer deaths as a result of breathing SHS
  • Worse asthma and asthma-related problems in up to 1 million asthmatic children
  • Between 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in children under 18 months of age, and lung infections resulting in 7,500 to 15,000 hospitalizations each year.

Surgeon General’s reports: Findings on smoking, secondhand smoke, and health. Since 1964, 30 separate US Surgeon General’s reports have been written to make the public aware of the health issues linked to tobacco and SHS. The ongoing research used in these reports continues to support the fact that tobacco and SHS are linked to serious health problems that could be prevented.

The reports have highlighted many important findings on SHS, such as:

  • SHS kills children and adults who don’t smoke.
  • SHS causes disease in children and in adults who don’t smoke.
  • Exposure to SHS while pregnant increases the chance that a woman will have a spontaneous abortion, still-born birth, low birth- weight baby, and other pregnancy and delivery problems.
  • Chemicals in tobacco smoke damage sperm which might reduce fertility and harm fetal development. SHS is known to damage sperm in animals, but more studies are needed to find out its effects in humans.
  • Babies and children exposed to SHS are at an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, ear infections, and more severe and frequent asthma attacks.
  • Smoking by parents can cause wheezing, coughing, bronchitis, and pneumonia, and slow lung growth in their children.
  • SHS immediately affects the heart, blood vessels, and blood circulation in a harmful way. Over time it can cause heart disease, strokes, and heart attacks.
  • SHS causes lung cancer in people who have never smoked. Even brief exposure can damage cells in ways that set the cancer process in motion.
  • There is no safe level of exposure to SHS. Any exposure is harmful.
  • Many millions of Americans, both children and adults, are still exposed to SHS in their homes and workplaces despite a great deal of progress in tobacco control.
  • On average, children are exposed to more SHS than non-smoking adults.
  • The only way to fully protect non-smokers from exposure to SHS indoors is to prevent all smoking in that indoor space or building. Separating smokers from non-smokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot keep non-smokers from being exposed to SHS.

Where is secondhand smoke a problem?

You should be especially concerned about exposure to secondhand smoke in these 4 places:

At work

The workplace is a major source of SHS exposure for adults.

SHS is classified as a potential cancer-causing agent by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency responsible for health and safety regulations in the workplace. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), another federal agency, also recommends that SHS be considered a possible carcinogen in the workplace. Because there are no known safe levels, they recommend that exposures to SHS be reduced to the lowest possible levels.

SHS in the workplace has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease and lung cancer among adult non-smokers. The Surgeon General has said that smoke-free workplace policies are the only way to do away with SHS exposure at work. Separating smokers from non-smokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating the building cannot prevent exposure if people still smoke inside the building. An extra bonus other than protecting non-smokers is that workplace smoking restrictions may also encourage smokers to smoke less, or even quit.

In public places

Everyone can be exposed to SHS in public places, such as restaurants, shopping centers, public transportation, schools, and daycare centers. The Surgeon General has suggested people choose restaurants and other businesses that are smoke-free, and let owners of businesses that are not smoke-free know that SHS is harmful to your family’s health.

Some businesses seem to be afraid to ban smoking, but there is no proof that going smoke-free is bad for business. Public places where children go are a special area of concern. Make sure that your children’s day care center or school is smoke-free.

At home

Making your home smoke-free may be one of the most important things you can do for the health of your family. Any family member can develop health problems related to SHS.

Children’s growing bodies are especially sensitive to the poisons in SHS. Asthma, lung infections, and ear infections are more common in children who are around smokers. Some of these problems can be serious and even life-threatening. Others may seem like small problems, but they add up quickly – think of the expenses, time for doctor visits, medicines, lost school time, and often lost work time for the parent who must stay home with a sick child.

Think about it: we spend more time at home than anywhere else. A smoke-free home protects your family, your guests, and even your pets.

Multi-unit housing where smoking is allowed is a special concern and a subject of research. Tobacco smoke can move through air ducts, wall and floor cracks, elevator shafts, and along crawl spaces to contaminate apartments on other floors, even those that are far from the smoke. SHS smoke cannot be controlled with ventilation, air cleaning, or by separating smokers from non-smokers.

In the car

Americans spend a great deal of time in cars, and if someone smokes there, the poisons can build up quickly. Again, this can be especially harmful to children.

In response to this fact, the US Environmental Protection Agency has a special program to encourage people to make their cars, as well as their homes, smoke-free. Some states and cities even have laws that ban smoking in the car if carrying passengers under certain ages or weights.

**From the American Cancer Society